Broken trust: The Boeing’s problems

Mrs Pilar Vera Palmés

Chairwoman of ACVFFI and President of AVJK5022

In 2012 I was invited to participle in the book “Seconds for disaster”, written by Glenn Meade, a journalist, and specialist in commercial flight simulation, and Ray Ronan, captain of A320 and the journalist. When they explain what the book was about, I did not hesitate to accept. The front cover is a picture of a mouth and a finger demanding silent next to a meaningful zipper, in addition to the phrase “Everyone, flight or not, should read it”. Today it seems a tragic omen.

This book impressed significantly because since 2009 we had come up against the wall of Boeing. They refused to answer to Spanish Court that investigated the responsibilities of the disaster of Flight JK5022. Whether they had done it, probably, it had not happened the shift of the judicial case toward the forgotten. Also, because it brings to the table the sewers of airlines and air transport industry out in its 18 chapters.

Concerned, I bought several books and I sent to ministers of my government. They didn’t even acknowledge receipt. Managing air transport, tourism or government administration should not be incompatible with reading the black hole of the worldwide air transport system. Especially in Spain because a Spanair’s MD82, Flight JK5022, crashed during takeoff in Airport Madrid Barajas Adolfo Suarez with 154 death and 18 seriously injured. Chapter 12, titled “The history happen again: when it does not learn from failures“, is about the causes of this catastrophe. Its introduction is strong;  “The only and real error is the one which we do not learn nothing from” John Powell. This situation goes on in Spain.

It is terrible reading now, six years after, chapter 11 about Boeing’s problems; broken trust. Specifically, they speak about the Boeing 737 NG. In order to understand the scope of this written testimony, just need to read its pages. It provides that the Boeing 737 NG (Next Generation) was introduced to FAA as an aircraft designed and built by robots. The components would be assembled so perfect that there no be hollow between the structure’s parts, which used to need filler, without holes drilled by persons that could minimize the strong of the structure. The metal would be cut by machines and expensive tools, making like that an airplane with major tolerances, high solidity and, all of that, with minor weight.“. Boeing put into operation the technology advances which would do allow 737 NG fly more high, more transport capacity, and withstand higher tensions, everything based on extremely precise tools and the plans given to FAA for the approbation of the aircraft. However, the aircrafts manufactured are not made under the same standards than the original model and not following the approved system of manufacture. This happened with Primary Structured Elements (PSE), not with irrelevant pieces.

Next, a text of the Boeing 737 Repair Manual: Danger: the failure of a PSE could origin a catastrophic fault of aircraft. These flawed pieces and other not approved was made for Boeing by the manufacture called AHF-Ducommun. But, two Boeing employees had to decide where was their loyalty: with safety or passengers or with the company that hired them?

By that time, 300 aircraft are flying around the world, and staying on the ground could suppose the financial ruin of the American giant. Despite legal warnings from Boeing, both of them addressed to the Justice Department, which promised protection given the severity of the information and they started an investigation of FAA, which only collected the address of AHF found on its website. A criminal investigation of Department of Defense ruled that pieces do not adjust to standards and the forced adjustments in Boeing manufactured could causes problems. But, everything went to nothing because de Justice Department withdrew, and ordered to stop the investigation. What it all adds up to is that two employed lost their jobs, they were not protected as they promised to them. The aircraft still was manufactured, flying and transporting passengers and cabin crews, more high and more weight than before. But also, other disasters happened in 2009, 2010, etc. The young B737 – NG suffered fatigue, cracks, and structural weaknesses with just 8 years of their 30 years of live promised”

In 2011, a hole by two meters of diameter opened in the passenger cabin’s ceiling of flight 812 of Southwest Airlines Phoenix-Sacramento and FAA issued a directive for making emergency reviews to 175 aircraft of older model 737. Fortunately, the airplane could do an emergency land in Yuma and it just injured two persons. Two years before, something similar happened in Flight 2294 of the same company. Making a manipulation of information, then Boeing said that new 737 models ( serial 600,700,800 and 900) had an airframe very different to these 175 older 737 aircraft, therefore, they did not need mentioned emergency reviews. Later, in a  case against their employs, Prewitt and Smith, Boeing said that 737 NGs have the same airframes, without changes. The misinformation and confusion about airplanes 737 8 years back, is the origin of the latest disasters, which could be avoided whether they had acted much more firmly than it did.

The current mystery of crashed 737s remembers the chaotic entanglement that AVJK5022 detangled in order to know the chain of errors that ended in of our tragedy. August 16, 1987, the Flight 255 of Northwest Airlines, an MD82 crashed when taking off, 154 deceased and a four-year-old child survived. FAA recommended several actions, but Boeing did nothing, explaining that this model was not being manufactured already. In particular, the TOWS should be duplicated or being tested before each flight. August 20, 2008, 21 years after and in the same month, the MD 82 Flight JK5022 of Spanair crashed during takeoff. In both cases, the TOWS did not work and did not alert the pilots who could not abort the takeoff. Also, the TOWS was tested only once a day, the first flight, this way, they did not follow the FAA’s recommendation of testing TOWS every flight. During these 11 years, we have tried to achieve that Boeing gives technical data, without success,-there is an abyss between victims and big American. Even Spanair Airline had not this data needed for showing a hidden serious failure of design on MD82 models. Who knows? Maybe now is the moment for giving us and we can find out this doubt which does not let us live in peace.

From the original trunk of MD 737 NG grew up the limb of B-737-MAX, more efficient and improved with great strides. But 346 deceased were needed in 5 months in order to statistics broke, the first African Air Company thought why did a four-month-old aircraft crash after takeoff, pilots reported this unsafe aircraft, the States stayed wisely this airplane on the ground until knowing what happened. But above all,  in order to show that technical progress, business, environment, economic efficiency, more passenger, less cost, …, are above the lives: the cost of deaths is unbearable.

There is one of big-American’s problems which will be very difficult to resolve: the broken mistrust on all society tiers. Nobody is out to suffer an air disaster and being a victim of the connivance of interests. This time, and hopefully forever, they are exposed. Maybe now, unequal and solitary fight on behalf of AVJK5022 and ACVFFI could be understood. A voice heard on international forums in front of who have in their hands the capacity of deciding. Remembering that commercial aviation with a more human approach is not only possible but also mandatory.

Article published in Spanish media: Diario de Avisos and Aviación Digital